Keywords have always been the foundation of any SEO campaign even with the latest algorithm updates like Panda and Search, plus Your World. With these new changes, the basic principles of SEO are still valid by having relevant targeted keywords in title tags, headings, and landing page content. However Google is always looking at new ways to provide searchers with a better, more relevant experience.
According to a recent article from The Wall Street Journal, Google announced plans to raise the bar even more by moving to a semantic search technology, which, according to Amit Singhal from Google, will take the experience to a higher level:
"Google Inc. GOOG is giving its tried-and-true Web-search formula a makeover as it tries to fix the shortcomings of today's technology and maintain its dominant market share.
Over the next few months, Google's search engine will begin spitting out more than a list of blue Web links. It will also present more facts and direct answers to queries at the top of the search-results page."
While this sounds like a new direction, Google and other search engines have been trying to provide search results based on intent for some time with location-based search, universal search, and other methods.
What Is Semantic Search?
Semantic search is the process of understanding the meaning of keywords people use and matching it to their intent. Before semantic search, the results could not differentiate between individual phrases like "Saturn" the planet and the automobile brand "Saturn." With semantic search, artificial intelligence is used to understand the actual meaning of words, the relationship between multiple word phrases, and the searcher's intent. Armed with this approach, search engines can provide more relevant search results, thus offering a better user experience.
According to Google, it provides good search results only if there are landing pages that include keywords from the search query. Google doesn't really understand the query but attempts to match the keywords from the query. Google can answer questions like "How tall is Mount Everest?" However it cannot seem to go beyond simple facts. Notice the answer to the question is now built into the search engine results page (SERP) as "best guess" and that it is based on information from other sites.
To overcome this dependency, Google is building "a huge knowledge graph of interconnected entities and their attributes." This graph is a database of structured information that is pulled from the web. As it grows with more and more entities, it will help to understand searchers' queries and provide answers to more complex questions.
This knowledge graph will be the support system for Google's semantic search efforts and will help Google to answer questions itself, instead of relying on other websites.
Semantic Search and SEO
So you may ask yourself what this means to the future of SEO. One thing to consider is that you will not only be competing with others for ranking in the SERPs but also Google since it will pull its results from its own source and not from other websites.
Another aspect is the emphasis you put on keyword research. You not only have to understand the meaning and context around your keywords, you also need to develop specific content around those words that match the right intent. Most people place a lot of emphasis around keyword search volume. That only shows how often the keyword is searched on but doesn't provide any insight into the context or intent of what the searcher might be looking for. You will need to look at other factors to help you gather that insight.
To help you better understand what a person means when they use a keyword you should frame the keyword into a question that breaks down several options on what the intent is. For instance, if someone searches for "mountain bike," what they are trying to answer might be:
I could go on and on but I am at least getting closer to understanding what the intent might be. So to do SEO in the semantic search world you need to go beyond just keyword popularity, you need to answer the question: what is the searcher's intent?
As you conduct your keyword research you should weigh keyword factors other than just search volume. You can look at relevance, competition, intent modeling, persona mapping, etc., which will add more dimension to your keywords.
Also, social media is a great tool for placing context to keywords. With many social media tools you can type in a search term and get a list of tweets and posts that are part of a conversation. Seeing the keyword used in a conversation will give you some better insight on intent.
As semantic search evolves more in the future it will become more and more important to focus on picking the right keywords based on user intent and mapping them to relevant content.
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Ron was president/CEO of Symetri Internet Marketing, which provides strategic SEM consulting and training. Ron was actively involved in the SEM community and spoke and trained at conferences and seminars. Ron also served on the Board of Directors for SEMPO and was one of the authors for the SEMPO Institute Fundamentals and Advanced courses.
Ron also published a book called Keyword Intelligence: Keyword Research for Search Social and Beyond. This book outlines various methods and tips for conducting keyword research but more importantly outlines many ways to use keyword research for social media, site design, content development and marketing, and even traditional marketing and branding.
Ron passed away on June 30, 2012.
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